On the non-implementation of Vatican II

Pius X

It is often said among concerned Catholics – of every persuasion, left and right – that the Second Vatican Council has not been fully or properly implemented. This is rather alarming, as it has been 47 years since the close of the council in December of 1965. What’s taking so long?

But I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, it has been 105 years since Pascendi Dominici Gregis was promulgated by Pope St. Pius X, and to this day Pascendi still has not been implemented.

Is it too much to ask that we first implement Pascendi before going on to implement Vatican II?

“In the first place, with regard to studies, We will and ordain that scholastic philosophy be made the basis of the sacred sciences. It goes without saying that if anything is met with among the scholastic doctors which may be regarded as an excess of subtlety, or which is altogether destitute of probability, We have no desire whatever to propose it for the imitation of present generations (Leo XIII. Enc. Aeterni Patris). And let it be clearly understood above all things that the scholastic philosophy We prescribe is that which the Angelic Doctor has bequeathed to us, and We, therefore, declare that all the ordinances of Our Predecessor on this subject continue fully in force, and, as far as may be necessary, We do decree anew, and confirm, and ordain that they be by all strictly observed. In seminaries where they may have been neglected let the Bishops impose them and require their observance, and let this apply also to the Superiors of religious institutions. Further let Professors remember that they cannot set St. Thomas aside, especially in metaphysical questions, without grave detriment …

Anybody who in any way is found to be imbued with Modernism is to be excluded without compunction from these offices, and those who already occupy them are to be withdrawn. The same policy is to be adopted towards those who favour Modernism either by extolling the Modernists or excusing their culpable conduct, by criticising scholasticism, the Holy Father, or by refusing obedience to ecclesiastical authority in any of its depositaries; and towards those who show a love of novelty in history, archaeology, biblical exegesis, and finally towards those who neglect the sacred sciences or appear to prefer to them the profane. In all this question of studies, Venerable Brethren, you cannot be too watchful or too constant, but most of all in the choice of professors, for as a rule the students are modelled after the pattern of their masters. Strong in the consciousness of your duty, act always prudently but vigorously.

Equal diligence and severity are to be used in examining and selecting candidates for Holy Orders. Far, far from the clergy be the love of novelty! God hates the proud and the obstinate. For the future the doctorate of theology and canon law must never be conferred on anybody who has not made the regular course of scholastic philosophy; if conferred it shall be held as null and void. The rules laid down in 1896 by the Sacred Congregation of Bishops and Regulars for the clerics, both secular and regular, of Italy concerning the frequenting of the Universities, We now decree to be extended to all nations. Clerics and priests inscribed in a Catholic Institute or University must not in the future follow in civil Universities those courses for which there are chairs in the Catholic Institutes to which they belong. If this has been permitted anywhere in the past, We ordain that it be not allowed for the future. Let the Bishops who form the Governing Board of such Catholic Institutes or Universities watch with all care that these Our commands be constantly observed.

It is also the duty of the bishops to prevent writings infected with Modernism or favourable to it from being read when they have been published, and to hinder their publication when they have not. No book or paper or periodical of this kind must ever be permitted to seminarists or university students. The injury to them would be equal to that caused by immoral reading – nay, it would be greater for such writings poison Christian life at its very fount. The same decision is to be taken concerning the writings of some Catholics, who, though not badly disposed themselves but ill-instructed in theological studies and imbued with modern philosophy, strive to make this harmonize with the faith, and, as they say, to turn it to the account of the faith. The name and reputation of these authors cause them to be read without suspicion, and they are, therefore, all the more dangerous in preparing the way for Modernism.

To give you some more general directions, Venerable Brethren, in a matter of such moment, We bid you do everything in your power to drive out of your dioceses, even by solemn interdict, any pernicious books that may be in circulation there. The Holy See neglects no means to put down writings of this kind, but the number of them has now grown to such an extent that it is impossible to censure them all. Hence it happens that the medicine sometimes arrives too late, for the disease has taken root during the delay. We will, therefore, that the Bishops, putting aside all fear and the prudence of the flesh, despising the outcries of the wicked, gently by all means but constantly, do each his own share of this work, remembering the injunctions of Leo XIII. in the Apostolic Constitution Officiorum: Let the Ordinaries, acting in this also as Delegates of the Apostolic See, exert themselves to prescribe and to put out of reach of the faithful injurious books or other writings printed or circulated in their dioceses …

14 thoughts on “On the non-implementation of Vatican II

  1. “that the Second Vatican Council has not been fully or properly implemented.”

    Funny thing is, I can’t imagine what a full implementation would look like. And I’m not sure I want to see it.


  2. Vatican I was never even formally “closed,” much less fully implemented. In fact, although it wasn’t really “reconvened” with Vatican II, Vatican II finished work Vatican I left on the table (most famously the role of bishops acting in union with the pope).

    I think one issue some have is that they are looking at this from “within history,” so to speak. Forty-some odd years may seem to you or I to be a long time, but it’s nothing in the grand scheme of history. To draw an analogy from secular history, look at Supreme Court cases. Roe v. Wade is 40 years old this year. Seems a long time (and, given what it did, it is far too long). But there was 58 years between Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. the Board of Education.

    My point is, the Church thinks in centuries for a reason. Decades are like minutes in ecclesial time.


  3. Hi Michelle. Thanks for the comment, though I’m not sure how your point (“the Church thinks in centuries for a reason”) pertains to the point of this post. Are you in favor of implementing Pascendi Dominici Gregis or not?


    • My point, which I am puzzled was not seen to be perfectly clear, is that there is no reason to despair because Vatican II is still in the process of implementation. If it takes a century or two to fully implement it, then that is not unusual for a Church that “thinks in centuries.”

      As for Pascendi, I’m afraid you’ve mixed apples and oranges. A papal encyclical is important, but does not have the magisterial weight of an ecumenical council promulgated by a pope. It’s not even an infallible document in toto. Only passages of a papal document in which the pope specifically calls upon his charism of infallibility and formulates a dogmatic pronouncement are infallible (e.g., paragraph 44 of Munificentissimus Deus is an infallible papal pronouncement, not the whole document).

      I think you’ll agree with this if you apply this to other papal encyclicals. For example, how soon would you like the Church to fully implement Bl. John Paul II’s call in Evangelium Vitae to severely limit the death penalty—to the point of abolishing it altogether where possible?


      • The weight of Vatican II is a complicated issue. Normally, an ecumenical council is carried out with the intent of infallibility; but the evidence shows this is not the case with Vatican II. If I remember rightly, this was admitted by Popes John XIII, Paul VI, and Benedict XVI as well.

        Pascendi, on the other hand, throughout the whole body of the encyclical, makes use of a much more authoritative language than the council does, so in this particular case (Pascendi vs. VII) I think there is a case to be made that the former carries greater magisterial weight than the latter, even if in general this would not normally be the case. Vatican II just happens to be a very exceptional case.


  4. As a Catholic who, in my undiscerning youth, studied Religion and Biblical subjects at a secular university, and almost split my brain in half as a result, I found in Pascendi Dominici Gregis my sanity (and perhaps my salvation also). I only wish I had read it earlier and avoided so much confusion in the first place. Modernism is a poison. I shudder to think of the effects it would have on a would-be-priest’s faith and understanding of his vocation if ingested at seminary.


  5. I apologize for the delay. It was not intentional silence. So far as I can tell, Pascendi is a disciplinary document, intended to address a problem facing the Church in St. Pius’s time. As a disciplinary document, the doctrinal truths it defends remain necessary for the Church, but its disciplinary injunctions would either need to be re-affirmed, modified, updated, or superseded by later popes invoking their own disciplinary authority. It’s doubtful that a new pope would say, “Implement Pascendi!” He would be more likely to issue his own document that addressed disciplinary issues in his own day.


  6. Pascendi is much more than a disciplinary document. It is primarily and overwhelmingly a teaching document. Secondarily, you might say it is also a pastoral document. The pastoral or “disciplinary” measures it imposes flow directly from the truth of its teaching.

    In any case, I wasn’t aware that disciplinary measures imposed by a pope in a papal encyclical expired upon his death unless explicitly renewed by his successors. I would think the reverse to be true: that the disciplinary measures remain in force unless explicitly overturned or repudiated by his successors.

    Clearly, if the Modernist heresy was a problem in the Church when Pius X was pope, Modernism is many times more of a problem today. That much is beyond dispute. It follows that if Pascendi’s pastoral measures were necessary then, they are even more urgently necessary now.

    Somehow, you still managed to avoid answering my question. Are you in favor of implementing Pascendi or not? You’re allowed to have an opinion on this, just as you’re allowed to have an opinion on whether Vatican-II should be implemented. No pope has repudiated this encyclical. It’s still on the Vatican website. Therefore, it’s reasonable to expect good Catholics to desire it’s full implementation. I’m baffled as to why you won’t just come out and say “Yes, Jeff, of course I’m in favor of implementing Pascendi. It’s a magisterial document, written in unambiguous and strongly authoritative language only 105 years ago (remember, the Church thinks in centuries!), with the pope’s clear intent to bind the faithful to its teaching and instructions. What a silly question.”


    • Because I am not in favor of implementing the disciplinary measures of Pascendi. I think that it was a disciplinary document of its time, and that how the Church handles cases of dissent has matured in the century since it was written. The doctrinal truths it defends remain important and necessary for the Church, but the means by which that is done do not remain static. And I think Traditionalists might well reach the same conclusion if they pondered their own position.

      The standard claim is that Vatican II rehabilitated “Modernists” who had been stifled by the disciplinary measures of the Church in the years leading up to Vatican II. These were the kind of disciplinary measures advocated for in Pascendi. By the Traditionalists’ own reckoning, all those measures did was drive the “Modernists” underground. They did not change hearts or minds. Well, if Modernism is to be defeated, then obviously different measures are called for, ones that uphold human dignity and conscience … very much like the documents of Vatican II advocated for.

      As for the magisterial weight of Pascendi, we circle back to my question to you: How soon would you like the Church to implement Bl. John Paul II’s call to limit, if not abolish, the death penalty in Evangelium Vitae?


      • Well then, if I’m not in favor of implementing the “pastoral” measures of Vatican-II because the times are different and the Church has matured, that shouldn’t bother you much.

        I will say that the Church was much better off when the Modernists were “underground”. Bad things belong underground. Pius X’s disciplinary measures, though never fully implemented, nevertheless saved souls. The post-conciliar approach of tolerance and dialogue and so-forth just unleashed the wolves on the flock.

        As for implementing Evangelium Vitae vs. Pascendi Dominici Gregis, three (or four) comments:

        1. First, whatever EV might say about capital punishment, it cannot bind the faithful to a doctrinal or moral calculus that contradicts the perennial teaching of Scripture (which is inerrant) and the Magisterium. I could quote many popes and saints and doctors of the Church, but let’s just take take the Catechism of Trent:

        “The power of life and death is permitted to certain civil magistrates because theirs is the responsibility under law to punish the guilty and protect the innocent. Far from being guilty of breaking this commandment [Thy shall not kill], such an execution of justice is precisely an act of obedience to it. For the purpose of the law is to protect and foster human life. This purpose is fulfilled when the legitimate authority of the State is exercised by taking the guilty lives of those who have taken innocent lives. In the Psalms we find a vindication of this right: ‘Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all evildoers from the city of the Lord’ (Ps. 101:8).”

        2a. The argument in EV hinges on this assertion: “Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases [of execution being necessary to defend society] are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” Unfortunately this statement is demonstrably false. Violent criminals remain a mortal threat to their fellow prisoners, prison staff, and to society when they are released. A quick internet search turns up eleven prison homicides last year in Texas alone.

        2b. There is, however, a highly effective means of protecting society from violent criminals apart from execution: solitary confinement. But this amounts to torture, which, unlike capital punishment, is *intrinsically* immoral.

        3. The language of EV on this point is best described as the presentation of a moral argument rather than a command from the weight of papal authority. Pascendi, by contrast, issues clear and direct commands and the Vicar of Christ expects them to be followed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s